Over the last several months, I’ve seen amazing acts of daily dedication—grocery workers, bus drivers, first responders, delivery people, caregivers, bank employees, nurses and doctors, all reporting for duty. They inspire me. And I thank them.
I’ve also heard about another group of people who were out in full force—dishonest people trying to trick or steal money that everyday people work so hard to earn. They make me angry. And I want to warn you.
It’s especially important now to be watchful, as too many of our relatives, friends and neighbors have lost hours, lost income or lost their jobs because of COVID-19. I know people are scared and maybe embarrassed, which could make them more vulnerable.
Many of these scams aren’t new, but there may be a new twist on them. And they prey on new or intensified fears.
Here are some of the scams to watch out for.
Unemployment Imposters. This new scam is delaying unemployment benefits to many people, from New York to Hawaii. Using information they know about people, crooks are applying for benefits and directing them electronically to their own bank accounts.
Advice: If your benefits have been delayed, work with your state to verify your identity. If you find out someone has applied for benefits under your name and you’re still working, reach out to
call the state.
You can link to your state from https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/unemployment-insurance or do an internet search for “unemployment benefits” and the name of your state.
Robocall Scams: Of course, scammers have been using phone calls to try to separate people from their money for decades. Now, they’re using robocalls to target consumers during the national emergency.
For example, the World Health Organization issued a warning about criminals seeking to take advantage of the pandemic in order to steal money or sensitive personal information. The warning urges people to be wary of phone calls and text messages that purport to be from WHO, asking for account information or for money.
Advice: Don’t ever give your bank account information or your credit card and debit card number to anyone who calls you. If they claim to be from your bank, tell them you will call them back—and use the number on the back of your credit or debit card or from your monthly statement.
Phishing: This is when an imposter tries to trick you into providing your personal information. The email might look like it’s from a reputable company you know or do business with. The email will ask you to download an attachment or links you to a website, where you’ll be asked to give your username, password, account number, personal identification number (PIN), Social Security number or other personal information.
This particular scam often tries to create a sense of urgency by threatening to close your account, saying your account has been hacked or telling you there are unauthorized charges on your account. Some even say you’re getting a refund or won a contest. But to learn more, they ask for personal or account information.
Advice: Hover over the “From” field of the email to see if it looks authentic. If it doesn’t or if you don’t recognize the sender, don’t open the attachment or click on the link. Simply delete it.
Text Scams: Texts can be especially dangerous because we are so quick to respond in back-and-forth conversations with our friends. Don’t do that. Stop and take a breath. Would a government agency like the Federal Commerce Commission really be offering you $30,000 in COVID-19 relief through the FCC Financial Care Center via text message?
Advice: Don’t click on links in texts related to the virus and don’t click ever on links in texts where you don’t recognize the sender.
How to protect yourself: Many banks offer free text and email alerts based on your communication and dollar-amount preferences. For example, your bank could text you every time there is purchase on your debit card of $25 or more, if that’s the limit you set. This can be an early flag to fraudulent activity on your account.